We have written often about the dos and don’ts of preparing successful resumes and cover letters and maintaining a professional online brand to boost your currency on the job market. I think every story on that topic probably mentions the importance of using proper grammar and spelling.
That’s because those details matter. In a recent employer survey, 61% said that they are turned off by a candidate using bad spelling or grammar in social media – and that’s a higher proportion than had a problem with posts and photos about alcohol consumption or even guns.
When it comes to creating a professional piece of writing, it is possible to ensure that it is error free. It takes some time and effort, but that effort pays off. Not only will error-free resumes boost your chances of getting hired, but people who use proper grammar advance further and faster in their careers and end up making more money. [See: How your grammar skills affect your salary.]
I earned my bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing, and that program included numerous courses on proofreading, editing, and honing texts. Here are some of the key techniques the professionals taught us in school.
How to write error-free resumes (or any documents) that sound great:
Walk away and come back later. It’s actually impossible to proofread something you have just written. When you are too close to the text, your eyes will play tricks on you. You will read what you meant to say, whether or not you got it right on the page. It’s also difficult to evaluate how good something sounds when you’ve just written it.
Once you’ve written a draft, step away from it and do something completely unrelated before attempting to proofread it. Better yet, if you have the time, proofread it the next day. With fresh eyes you’ll be able to more clearly and accurately evaluate what you’ve written.
Read it backwards. This won’t help with the flow of your prose, but it will allow you to make sure that you’ve used all of the right words in the right place. This is especially useful if you don’t have the luxury of time to walk away and come back fresh. Read the last sentence first, and work your way backwards through the document. This takes the information out of context and helps stop your brain from filling in the blanks or compensating for what you ‘meant to say’ rather than what you actually wrote.
Print it. Proofread a printed version of your text, making corrections with a pen. I’m not sure why this is, but our eyes tend to be more forgiving of errors on screen than on paper. Typos and spelling mistake will stand out more on the printed document than in your digital version.
Read it out loud. Reading your text aloud forces you to pronounce every sentence or phrase in the way that you would actually say them to another person. This way your mouth and ears as well as your eyes are proofreading your document. Does the text flow logically when you try to say it or do you trip over the wording? Does it sound idiomatic and fluent to you? You’ll catch more awkward phrasings and dropped words reading aloud than you will just scanning a document in your head.
Read it to another person. This won’t always be practical in a professional setting, but it can certainly be a powerful technique for writing a stronger resume. Read it to someone else. Do you feel confident that what you’re saying is convincing? Is it worded the way you would naturally communicate it to someone? Does it flow?
Reading to someone else is a great way to evaluate the fluidity of your text and to avoid the unnatural, stilted language that many people fall into when writing. You’ll hear it clearly when try to say it to a real person. Plus you get to have a second opinion of your content.
Watch for the non-verbal details too. Make sure that your entire document is in the same font. (If you’ve been cutting and pasting from several sources, different sections may have retained their original font settings.) Font-changes in the middle of a document look sloppy and unprofessional.
Be consistent with margins and spacing. In the days of the typewriter, people were taught to leave two spaces after a period, one after a coma. In the modern, electronic world we no longer do that. A single space after a period (or any punctuation) will do.
Make sure that all of your section headers are formatted the same way and all of your bulleted lists use the same bullet style. Use the same format for every date and location that you list.
For all of these elements, consistency is the key.
Writing an error-free resume can be essential to landing a job. And once you’ve been hired, no matter what career path you are on, good writing skills can help you to stand apart from the crowd and advance faster. It’s simply one of the most important skills that you can have for career success.
Having written this at my desk at Workopolis, I haven’t been able to follow all of my own advice. I haven’t read the article aloud (because that would make me seem like a weirdo) or to another person. I have walked away, re-read it, and printed it for proofreading. Hopefully, I haven’t missed anything. However I know that people love the irony of catching a mistake in an article about editing, so please let me know if I’ve missed anything!
Seven resume grammar mistakes that make you look dumb
Seven more grammar (& spelling) mistakes that make you look dumb
10 common phrases you’re getting wrong
How your grammar skills affect your salary